by John Copley
(ANNews) – On Thursday June 8, Amiskwaciy Academy hosted its 2017 Graduation Ceremony and Dinner; this year’s celebration was held in the Wildrose Ballroom at the Kingsway Avenue-based Edmonton Inn (formerly the Ramada Inn).
Master of Ceremonies Emily Milne, an assistant professor at MacEwan University, got the afternoon started when she called on the Amiskwaciy Drummers to initiate the Grand Entry with an honour song. After opening prayers by Elders Francis Whiskeyjack, Jeanette Lean, Don Langford and Leith Campbell, a number of speakers rose to the podium to offer words of advice, congratulations and wisdom. The speakers included Edmonton Public Schools Vice Chair, Ray Martin, Elder and Executive Director of Métis Child and Family Services, Don Langford and Alberta Education Minister, The Honourable David Eggen. Well-known local celebrity and World Boxing Association Champion Jelena Mrdjenovich offered a keynote address.
Principal Fred Hines delivered a special dedication to school volunteer and president of Edmonton’s Active Aboriginal Seniors group, Lynn Lush, who was presented with a Stratford Career Institute (Psychology/Social Work) Diploma by Minister Eggen and Ray Martin. Later in the afternoon Hines and school Elders also presented Emily Milne with a Pemberton Blanket for the work she does and the support she offers to the students at Amiskwaciy Academy.
A number of graduates were also recipients of various community presentations and awards. These included the Amiskwaciy Society Award, RBC Royal Eagle Program Award, Helping Hands Award, the Royal Glenora Rotary Club Award, the Manasc Isaac Award and the Governor General’s Academic Medal of Achievement.
A congratulatory address and presentation of awards took place as 18 of the 22 graduating students were called to the podium to receive their Grade 12 Diplomas. Four graduates were not able to attend the awards’ ceremony and dinner. In attendance were: Brianna Ahenakew, Kris Gower, Blaye Chickosis, Kris Jebeaux, Alysis Crawford, Catalina Kootenay, Victoria Cryer, Brendan Lamouche, Nathaniel Davis, Cole Lamouche, Trevor Deltess, Kristina Loggie, Kierra Giroux, Dennis Moyah, Brylee Gladue, Brandy Wright, Faith Good Striker and Kellie Wright-Tootoosis.
“To our honoured graduates of 2017,” said Hines in his principal’s address, “please know that you represent the pride of the school and your Aboriginal community. Amiskwaciy Academy, its teachers, support staff, and administration acknowledge the hard work and difficulties that you have taken on in order to become part of our school’s distinguished list of graduates. From this day forward please know that our doors are always open to you. We hope that you will consider Amiskwaciy Academy as a part of your family and allow us to share in your future success. I wish you all the best on your journey.”
Ray Martin told the students that he was both pleased and honoured to join them today “on this very special occasion – your high school graduation,” noting that “this can be both an exciting and scary time for students – exciting because it is a new chapter in your life, and somewhat daunting because there are many questions to answer and many decisions to make about what you will do with your future. Amiskwaciy Academy has been a place that has nurtured your skills and helped you to develop knowledge about yourself and the world around you. It’s now time to dip your hand into the pool of skills you’ve developed here as you prepare for yet another adventure – life after graduation. In doing this it is also a good time to remember all that you have learned here at the school; remember your teachers, the Elders and the family members who’ve shared your passion and given you compassion as you move ahead to fulfil your aspirations. Remember your friends – the ones who challenge your ideas and the ones that make you laugh, even when you’re feeling down.
“Amiskwaciy Academy is more than just a school, it’s a tight-knit learning and cultural community where our students not only study core subjects like math, science, social and English literature, but also experience and practice First Nation, Métis and Inuit languages, traditions and values. As you leave this school, this place of hope, encouragement and enlightenment, know that you are not on this path alone. Be sure to remember and thank all of the important people who have guided you and supported you along your educational journey and continue to build and strengthen the positive relationships in your life as you go about as individuals. Embrace your natural talents and remember your values – let them shine through even in dark times. I’m certain you have the strength to meet any challenge that life throws at you. You’ve already set a positive example for those who follow in your footsteps; continue to lead your peers with your heads held high. Congratulations – you truly are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Elder Don Langford talked about the next step in the life of a graduate and reminisced about his early youth – noting how things have changed, especially in the workplace. He encouraged this year’s graduates to enjoy the summer but to remember that in a few months September would arrive and with it the necessity to make choices.
“Make choices that you feel are important to you and when you know what it is that you want to do with your life, do it well,” he advised. “Focus, persevere, learn from your mistakes. Look ten years into the future and ask yourself what kind of life you want to have. Time flies by very quickly so think about what you want to do, what you want to achieve and then go out and do it. Grade 12 used to get you a pretty good job but with today’s technology and advancement many of those jobs are no longer available. I was lucky; I joined the army and spent a couple of decades being a soldier. Decide what it is that you would like to do and then decide how you will accomplish your goals. Work hard, never quit, remain focused on both your short-term and long-term goals and you will realize all of your dreams.”
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen told the students, staff and visitors that on behalf of the Government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley,” I just wanted to come and thank all of you as parents, family members, teachers, support staff and graduates for building such a wonderful school here in Edmonton Calder, which of course is my constituency as well. Over the years I’ve seen Amiskwaciy Academy grow and mature into a wonderful place that is not just a jewel for Edmonton Kingsway and Alberta, but right across the country it is a shining example of building education looking to First Nation, Métis and Inuit culture first. I’m overwhelmed by the example that is being served here today – it is a perfect example of success.
“I was a teacher for 20 years before I entered politics and I know that these graduations are a special time, not just for the younger people that are leaving, but also for the teachers and support staff who have worked with you. You may not know it, but you teach your teachers just as much as they teach you.”
Minister Eggen lauded the work of the teachers and support staff and called for a round of applause; the full house was loud and appreciative.
“Fred (Hines) has done a wonderful job and he’s an inspiration to all of us – for his energy and the way he’s put together such a wonderful school,” added the Minister. “We see graduation season come and go every year but I know this one here at Amiskwaciy is especially meaningful to me. We know, as the government here in the Province of Alberta, that we are focusing very hard on building First Nation, Métis and Inuit culture into our new curriculum. I have also signed an agreement with the Truth and Reconciliation Institute to ensure First Nation, Métis and Inuit education training and Truth and Reconciliation training for all teachers and support staff here in Alberta.
“We’re moving ahead very quickly to try to understand each other better, to understand Indigenous culture and to make it a part of our Canadian culture as well. Together we are stronger; together we can do so much more.”
The final speaker of the day was boxing sensation, Jelena Mrdjenovich. Click here for an excerpt of her remarks.
Here are more photos from the 2017 Amiskwaciy Academy Graduation Ceremony: